Caveat: I do not remember writing this, though I found it today in my personal freelance folder, dated 14 Jan. 2013, and it feels vaguely familiar, like a dream I woke from. Or maybe you wrote it …
He is sitting with a middle-aged black couple at an outdoor cafe. A taxi almost sideswipes their table but manages to brake in time. The cafe proprietor chews the driver out in French. They are almost certainly in Paris.
The couple are driving him someplace—probably the airport. It is probably a rental car. They are probably returning home from visiting him at school in France. But no, they take him to their home. It is Washington, DC, the night before his flight back to France for school. And he tells his mother he feels their lives are being invented as they go, even the back stories. She laughs.
The couple are dropping him off at the airport the next day, giving him directions to his flight, its gate. They say goodbye. He enters the crowd. But his plane is redirected to a different location for a medical emergency. He’s made to wait for a new plane. And the one he would have been on explodes on take-off. His mother says, “We never saw our son again.”
He’s with a group of homeless street performers, almost certainly in Paris. They’re acrobats, perching on fences and such. He’s such a natural, more limber and fearless than even the leader, which causes some tension. All he carries in his pockets are a few coins, a comb, and an illusory left thumb (he has convinced even himself of the removable thumb trick).
They’re climbing a fence, and their combined weight begin to bring it down. So the rest of the group flees, leaving him to prop it up so it won’t be noticed for a while. A pair of elderly women, tourists, approach and ask him about the locale. He realizes that he knows details he hadn’t realized.
He goes searching for the street performers. Along the way, he happens upon an outdoor cafe. They are begging among the patrons. He slips inside, unnoticed. A waitress asks him is he would like a seat. He says no, that he would like work, if possible. She says with relief that they really need someone to help cook, but wouldn’t he like something to eat first. He confesses to having no money. She says in a motherly way that she can cover a meal—some soup perhaps?
He fills out the job application and realizes that a.) he is still in Washington, DC, and b.) he is a semester short of a Masters degree in International Studies. There is no thumb in his pocket.
He finishes the first half of his first shift and asks to borrow the phone. He dials his parents. A recording says, “We’re sorry. This number is no longer in service.” The waitress finds him crying. He feels something, at last.